I was gonna do another episode of Whitebox TV to wrap-up HB but I think it deserves a more serious take. (Instead Whitebox TV will preview the first PSP event featuring both Champions & Challengers--kinda like Matty and Todd--but animated.)
I know what you're thinking: X-Factor wins so Baca won't be dissing the event or making fun of the NPPL like usual. Well, yes and no. Because we won I think it's important I try to be fair but I won't be pulling any punches. First let's review The worst Monday Poll ever.
Last week's The Monday Poll wanted to know who you (the voters) thought would win HB given a pro team line-up that included so many brand new teams. Predictably y'all went with the biggest names, the established teams with the few votes that went to some of the new kids almost certainly based on family and friendship or a wishful level of confidence bordering on insanity. Consequently your results had Dynasty, not unreasonably, appearing on 87% of all ballots with X-Factor next on 77% of the ballots while Uprising was third with 20%. [Some of you may have remembered right about now that Arsenal was on the list and had 27% of the vote. That's correct but since they were a no-show I've chosen to toss their result. Speaking of no-shows there had to be something more to the late Arsenal withdrawal than misplaced dates on the calendar, didn't there? Waiting until the very last minute, almost literally, was a huge snub and one that must have been intended to send the league a message. And not one of well-being or best of luck either. That's also one more big checkbook no longer part of the NPPL.] Contact received 15% of the vote followed by Avalanche at 10% with a number of teams, Vendetta, Explicit, Outlaws, tied at 7%. More interestingly though is how the actual teams performed.
For those with a few years of HB experience it wasn't hard to spot a few shortcuts here and there but nothing that would have effected the competition--with the possible exception of rumors of "missing" chronos. (On the grandstand field it wasn't an issue but there was some talk about conditions on the other two fields.) And it seems the Virtue chips, if needed, weren't supplied as part of a team's entry this year--at least if our experience was indicative--and the cost of the chips was up 50% too. [I might add here that over the course of the last year all the stats promised by Virtue and the NPPL have been non-existent which tends to make a cynic (like me) wonder how well the system is really working.] Word on site was that around 110 teams were competing but a count of teams using the results suggests it may be closer to 100--though that doesn't include any 5-man or 3-man teams--if there were any.
The grandstand (much reduced from the its scale back in the NPPL's heyday) was sparsely populated most of the weekend though the weather didn't help as both Saturday and Sunday were overcast much of the day and uniformly chilly. (The sun made a brief appearance Sunday towards the end of the day.) Also not helpful was the announcing coming from the VIP. Without a scoreboard and with 4 teams playing at the same time--within the same set--it's important that the information provided to fans and spectators make the play comprehensible. Something that frequently lacking but at least Pev wasn't soliciting women from behind the microphone this year--at least not that I heard.
Despite lowered expectations the anecdotal reports I heard from a couple of vendors was that they did better business than expected--and better than they've done at other recent NPPL events. The venue was set-up in the original location, north of the pier, which goes a long way toward creating the HB vibe that has made the venue a popular favorite of the players and of the imagination of Paintball.
Okay, let's take a look at the pro teams starting with the remaining regulars; Dynasty, X-Factor, Vendetta, Uprising, Xplicit, Avalanche and Phoenix Contact (which played Vegas 2012 as their first pro event as a team.) Dynasty and X-Factor are the only two remaining pro teams that also routinely have competed in the pro ranks of the PSP. Uprising came in to this event with some highly publicized new additions and a lot of momentum. Amongst the teams with pro experience a part of the difference in results can be attributed to the amount of practice time the teams get in preparation for each event. This time around it looked like Xplicit was learning the field and how they wanted to play together during the prelims. The same is usually true of Avalanche. (Even on a simple layout like HB--and by simple I mean it played as a straightforward control the wires win the game traditional layout--a number of the teams were fundamentally sound OTB but struggled in the mid-game and failed in the close.) In the past both Uprising and Vendetta have had their high moments but have generally lacked consistency. Most if not all of the boys from Uprising also play PSP so their attentions and preparation for the event were divided. Even so they played with a lot of intensity. Vendetta looked solid and played a consistent and aggressive game all weekend long looking like they were confident in their preparation and in each other. Contact looked improved from Vegas and didn't shy away from making some strong moves but man for man simply don't have the roster some of the established teams do. Contact is also symptomatic of the sort of team that looks like they plan for their breakouts but not their close-outs and as a consequence find themselves up on occasion but clueless as to what to do about it. Of the new teams the two Crushes (Buffalo & Arsenal) and Flashpoint were the least prepared mostly looking ill-matched even against the other new squads. In the case of Arsenal Crush they at least were intending to play D1 originally and bumped up to fill the pro division vacancy left by Arsenal at the last minute. Warped Army was a noticeable level above the basement teams but not quite up to par with the best of the new teams. They were (and are) the Ft. Wayne Outlaws sporting a roster peppered with some old pros, CP Raiders (a successful D1 team from seasons past in the NPPL) and PB Gateway which proved to be a solid if unspectacular team that played smart methodical paintball.
What then does the future hold for the newest pros? I suppose it depends on the fate of the NPPL. Some of the NPPL's old pros weren't that long ago the new kids on the block themselves.
And how much impact will the change in the bunker sets and field dimensions have--if they are ever actually implemented? It's hard to say but the game is rapidly becoming more and more like its competition.
While the tournament itself seemed to go well (and on schedule Saturday and Sunday) there were a few behind the scenes glitches like the disappearance of the color guard on Sunday and rumors of regular crew members quitting either prior to or during the event. If true, it didn't seem to impact the paintball but HB is also the most expensive event in the NPPL schedule and without a cash infusion the league will likely spend the rest of the year in debt (and attempting to break even or even pocket a few bucks). Add to that the so-called 4 star Chicago event is now less than a month away and registration hasn't opened yet nor have any of the event details been released, including a field layout, and it appears like the remaining NPPL leadership is already slipping behind. And Tampa will not be the Tampa of old despite the fact it's a good venue with excellent access to hotels, restaurants and the airport. Nobody plays 7-man in the southeast anymore and if the most magical of all tourney venues, HB, can only muster 100 teams Tampa won't be close. What Tampa might be is the last NPPL event of the current regime.